The LTC Class C football ranks have been two-tiered in recent years, with several consistent contenders for top honors and several other teams striving to join those ranks.
John Bapst of Bangor is the most recent team to elevate itself to a contending level, highlighted by the Crusaders’ trip to the Eastern Maine Class C championship game last fall.
Now Stearns of Millinocket has taken a step toward joining the elite with its 18-12, six-overtime victory at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln last Friday night.
The marathon tied the LTC record for longest game, matching Bucksport’s 6-0 six-overtime victory over Stearns in 1983.
“The kids were excited and they should be, it was probably the biggest win we’ve had here since the ’03 season,” said eighth-year Stearns coach Chris Preble. “A lot of these kids haven’t experienced anything like this, so they were proud of themselves, as they should be, during the day at school [Monday].
“But once we got back to practice, then we had to say ‘OK, it’s over and done with, and now we have to get ready for the next game.’”
Yet Friday’s game was one for the record book, with neither team scoring through regulation play before matching touchdowns in the first and third overtimes.
Finally in the sixth overtime, Curt Hamilton scored on a 10-yard reverse on the Minutemen’s first offensive play to seal a most satisfying win.
“None of these kids had been through anything like this before, but were really focused,” said Preble. “They’d come off after each change of possession, get a drink of water, and then focus on what they had to do next. They really didn’t get tired out there.”
Ironically, the final overtime marked the first extra period in which Stearns opted to play defense first, a tribute to that unit’s strength throughout the game.
While Mattanawcook’s defense had held the Minutemen to negative total yardage through the first three quarters of the game, the Stearns defense stopped three drives inside the 20-yard line to keep the Lynx off the scoreboard.
In fact, through two games the Minutemen have yet to allow a point in regulation time.
Preble credits the defensive play calling of assistant coach John Jamo, as well as a solid group of veterans that lead his 26-player roster.
“We’ve got a lot of kids with quite a bit of experience,” said Preble. “We had a decent defense last year, but we kind of ran out of gas a few times against the better teams.”
That veteran presence includes several fourth-year starters led by linebacker-fullback Cory Barnett — who was named the LTC’s player of the week for his 15 tackles, an interception and fumble recovery during overtime, and a touchdown run. Other fourth-year starters are guard-wingback Hamilton, two-way tackle Josh Stahl and tailback-linebacker Charlie Osborne, while classmates Nate Cyr, a wide receiver and defensive end, and linebacker Jason LeVasseur are among the third-year starters for the Minutemen.
The win leaves Stearns as one of only three undefeated teams left in the 12-team league through two weeks of the season along with Bucksport and Orono. The Minutemen host Old Town in a Week 3 encounter this Friday night.
“There’s always been a group of four or five teams and then another group of four or five teams,” said Preble. “Now maybe there are a couple of more teams up there.
“We played a six-overtime game, and it’s a game that we could have easily lost but we’re fortunate to have pulled out the win. We can tell the kids what they’re capable of doing, but just telling them that can get to be old.
“But having the experience of winning a game like this is a confidence boost for our kids.”
LTC adds new scholar award
The LTC has added a new academic scholarship to its postseason football awards program.
The Silvernail Academic Scholar Award will be presented to a senior football player from one of the LTC member schools based on academic merit involving such criteria as cumulative grade point average and classes taken, such as honors classes and advanced placement classes, according to Orono High School athletic administrator and LTC official Mike Archer.
The recipient does not have to be a significant contributor to a team’s on-field success, meaning any senior on an LTC roster is eligible for the award, Archer said.
The award is named for Andy Silvernail, who played offensive guard and linebacker at Bucksport High School during the late 1980s.
Silvernail went on to play at Dartmouth College, where a back injury curtailed his career.
Silvernail now is a successful business executive in Wisconsin, and last year he contacted Archer with the idea that he and his wife Shelby wanted to establish a football-related scholarship as an expression of gratitude for what playing the sport and playing in the LTC meant in shaping his life.